Valerie Eviner is a Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. She conducts research at Hopland REC.
What led you to become an ecologist?
I had started out as an undergraduate with an interest in biology related to human health. While this was a great experience, at the time, that field focused narrowly on mechanisms- for example, linking a few genes to a disease, and rarely considered the body as a complex, integrated system. My interest in the complexity of interactions in biology, and my love of nature led me to explore ecology. I decided to pursue it as a career because it provided both the intellectual exploration of complex systems, while also providing a pathway to directly benefit human well-being by using research to address management and policy challenges.
What brought your work to Hopland REC?
In 1995, I had started graduate school at UC Berkeley and was very interested in exploring how plant species and plant diversity influenced ecosystem functions. When touring different potential research sites, HREC stood out as the obvious choice. It had a long history of research to inform my experimental design and provide context to my research. And it had an incredibly knowledgeable and supportive staff- especially Chuck Vaughn and Bob Keiffer, who improved my research ideas and designs with their experience and knowledge. I was also really excited about the joint focus on research and extension. This provided me the opportunity to learn about how my research could be applied to rangeland and natural resources challenges. The amazing staff over the years, the long-term trials implemented by HREC, and the gorgeous setting have been huge benefits that have made HREC a key research site for me continuously since 1995.
What do you hope to learn from your research at Hopland REC?
The objectives of my research at Hopland have somewhat changed from experiment to experiment over the years, but all investigate a link between how plants provide key ecosystem functions (e.g. erosion control, soil fertility, water infiltration and storage, soil C storage), and how the interaction of environmental conditions (soils, weather) and management (grazing, prescribed fire) influence plant composition and diversity.
Currently, our long-term research is focused on understanding how plant communities and ecosystem services vary over time, particularly due to droughts and fires, and how management (grazing, prescribed fires) influences those dynamics. The ability to do long-term research has led to invaluable opportunities- being able to better understand the impacts of fire and drought because we have data from years before these events.
What is your favorite part about conducting your research at Hopland REC?
With purely my research hat on, working at HREC has allowed my research to be more ambitious and more in-depth than it could be at most other sites. HREC staff have been amazing in providing intellectual support and collaboration, and technical assistance to tackle questions that would have been logistically impossible without their support. A key example is the lysimeter facility, which was rebuilt to allow researchers to do mechanistic studies on soil water infiltration, flow, and water quality. Not only did they go through the herculean effort of building this facility, but maintaining it and sampling it during the many rainstorms—something I could have never done even with a research team.
But what also keeps me coming back is the wonderful people- always so supportive and collaborative, and the gorgeous setting.